Marquee: MMoCA shares state of the arts

‘Wisconsin Triennial' shines a light on 40 artists
Marquee: MMoCA shares state of the arts
"OMG" by Helen Lee

Every three years, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art provides an exciting status update on art in Wisconsin. Highlighting 40 artists from around the state, the “Wisconsin Triennial 2016” reveals current work and forecasts the subject matter and themes that will prove to be significant in years to come.

The eclectic showcase, featuring paintings, prints, photography, sculpture and multimedia works, takes over the museum’s galleries from Sept. 24 to Jan. 8. But that’s just the much-lauded final step in the project, which MMoCA staffers work on for more than a year.

After reviewing the 600-plus submissions for the juried exhibition early this year, director Stephen Fleischman, senior curator Richard Axsom, associate curator Leah Kolb and curator of education Sheri Castlenuovo whittled the list down to 95 artists and conducted studio visits with each of them.

Artists appreciate that MMoCA staff members take the time to travel the state to see their work in person and talk with them–and the “Triennial” team wouldn’t have it any other way. “I can’t imagine doing this without the studio visits,” Kolb says. “It’s inspiring. It invigorates me.”

They received more submissions in digital media and interactive art this year, and considered a good amount of work with political overtones and pieces exploring racial issues and feminist themes. Ultimately, they chose the final participants by striking a balance of geographic, thematic and demographic diversity and keeping an eye toward artists creating cutting-edge contemporary work that addresses modern-day issues or uses materials in innovative ways.

“That’s what we’re looking for–and we find it,” Axsom says.

The exhibition provides a mix of emerging artists and spotlights new work and fresh directions from established artists to a Wisconsin audience. “For some people, it really launches their careers,” Kolb says. “It puts them on the map.”

The show highlights Wisconsin artists, but the caliber, styles and subject matter of their work transcends state boundaries. “There can be a sense of place,” Axsom says. “But a lot of the works could be made anywhere.”

A benefit of focusing on contemporary Wisconsin artists is the way they can play an active role in the exhibition, in interactions with staffers from studio visits all the way through the highly anticipated opening, which all the artists are invited to attend.

“It’s the most wonderful way of keeping up with contemporary art,” Axsom says. “Here you have the work but also the artist. You have the creative process. To be able to get that backstory … “

“You get so much depth,” Kolb finishes. “It contextualizes it in ways you wouldn’t get otherwise.”

And it all adds up to a richer understanding of what Wisconsin art is and where it’s going.

“You start to appreciate even more what’s in your own backyard,” Kolb says of the power of the “Triennial,” “the impressive talent that’s here.”